No Free Meal

Obama pays off donors with seats at state dinner

March 15, 2012

British Prime Minister David Cameron wasn’t the only London resident in attendance at President Barack Obama’s State dinner.

Louis Susman, an Obama bundler nicknamed "The Vacuum Cleaner" because of his fundraising prowess, flew from the British Isles to attend. Susman raised more than $500,000 for Obama’s record-setting election effort in 2008.

After Obama took office, he rewarded Susman with the coveted ambassadorship to the United Kingdom, an office once occupied by the likes of John Adams and James Monroe. The move was met with wide scorn from British media, especially after Obama pledged to appoint more career diplomats to his corps of ambassadors.

Susman has enjoyed the high life on two continents since the appointment, alternating between ritzy White House dinners and his 35-room manor in Regents Park.

Not every Susman has had the same luck in real estate. Lou’s daughter, Sally is famous for a taste so particular that she and her partner, writer Robin Cantor, could not find suitable housing in New York City on a $3 million budget.

But Sally Susman, who also attended Wednesday’s State dinner, pledged to raise between $200,000 and $500,000 for Obama’s re-election effort — the same amount Lou pledged in 2008. She is also one of Washington’s most influential political players, having visited the White House four times between 2009 and the fall of 2011.

Although she is not a registered lobbyist, she plays a number of important advocacy roles with Pfizer, the world’s largest drug company. She leads the company’s lobbying shop, as well as its Political Action Committee, which donated about 60 percent of donations to Democrats.

Susman is one of a score of Obama fundraisers who is a lobbying executive rather than actual lobbyist. Executives in such roles "sit together to do strategy and figure out (lobbying) tactics," one veteran lobbyist told the Washington Free Beacon.

Pfizer spent nearly $14 million lobbying for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and was instrumental in bringing pharmaceutical companies to the table to quash an attempt to roll back Medicare prescription drug programs that have cost taxpayers millions.

Rounding out the high-powered list of bundlers at the dinner was Jim Crown, who co-chaired Obama’s fundraising efforts in his home state of Illinois in 2008. Crown has been generous with his own Aspen mansion. In the past nine months, he has hosted First Lady Michelle Obama and daughters Malia and Sasha for a weekend ski getaway, as well as midsummer mega fundraiser with tickets going for between $1,000 and $35,800.

Wednesday’s State dinner was the largest since Obama took office. More than 300 people attended, including various government officials, a cast of A-List celebrities headed by actor George Clooney, and at least 46 Obama bundlers.